Saving the American Bumble Bee in Virginia


By Celia Vuocolo, Quail Forever Private Lands Biologist

A humming blur of black and gold zooms in front of your face and vanishes between tall grasses and waning summer flowers. Sound familiar? This is likely the extent of most folks’ interaction with the gregarious bumble bee.

Bumble bees are some of the hardest working bees in the business. Bumble bees are highly efficient pollinators of both wild and cultivated plants. If you like blueberries, thank a bumble bee; they can pollinate up to six blueberry flowers in the same amount of time that it takes a honeybee to pollinate just one. That is the crux of why it’s important to conserve bumble bees and other native pollinators — they have evolved alongside our native plants and developed interconnected relationships with them that are efficient and necessary for both of their survival.

In Virginia, Quail Forever’s efforts to restore upland habitat help support this species and many more native pollinators. Research has shown that good nutrition goes a long way in helping bees weather pesticide and disease exposures. By converting turf and marginal cropland to habitat, bumble bees are provided with forage as well as nesting opportunities. Before you start your next habitat project, consider how you might also help out the American bumble bee and other native bees by consulting with your local QF biologist. Let’s keep the hardest working bees in business.

The American bumble bee is found throughout the grasslands and open habitats of North America. Once considered to be a wide-ranging species, this bee has declined by roughly 90 percent and has almost disappeared from its northern range. The American bumble bee is hanging on in Northern Virginia, but not in large numbers. Now is the time for action.

Like its sister bumble bees, the American bumble bee is a generalist when it comes to flower preference, but it has a broad suite of favorites. In addition to perennials, bumble bees also forage on many flowering tree and shrub species. They harvest the pollen, store it in “saddle bags” aka the corbicula located on each hind leg, and fly it back to the nest to provision for larva.

Like many of our native bees, bumble bees are suffering; not just from conservation threats, but also lack of knowledge and awareness. Climate change, pesticide over-use, habitat destruction, and disease are hitting these guys big time, and it would be truly heartbreaking to lose the American bumble bee from our landscapes.

This story originally appeared in the 2022 Winter Issue of the Quail Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Quail Forever member today!